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Hands On: Asus EeePad Transformer review

Asus hopes to transform tablet market with first Honeycomb device.

Read our full a Asus Eee Pad Transformer review now.

Asus today launched its innovative Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) tablet, the EeePad Transformer. Which is vying to be the first such tablet on sale in the UK. It’s a 10.1in tablet that can be bought with a unique docking station that adds a full QWERTY keyboard and extra ports. Android 3.0 Honeycomb is the tablet version of the popular smartphone software, with support for larger screen sizes. For more details, read our full review of Honeycomb now.

We had a chance to play with the Transformer and its dock, as well as some of the software Asus has pre-installed. The Transformer is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 2 platform, a combination of a dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 processor and a GeForce GPU for hardware graphics acceleration. It felt really quick and responded well to touch input – we watched YouTube and HD videos playing in full screen without any hiccups.

Asus EeePad Transformer docked

Asus has used an IPS panel, normally found on expensive professional monitors, and covered it with tough Gorilla Glass, and it’s one of the best displays we’ve seen on any device. Viewing angles are wide and there’s an oleophobic (oil resistant) coating that makes touch input smoother as well as reducing the smears of oily fingerprints that plague most smartphones and tablets. Colours are vibrant, contrast is excellent and the brightness level is adequate for outdoor viewing.

Build quality on both the tablet and the docking station is superb. Each has a solid metal frame, with a textured plastic back panel that makes it easier to grip. There was absolutely no flex in either the tablet or the dock, and the keyboard panel had no flex in it. This was a pre-production sample, so some of the keys were in the wrong place or weren’t functional, but we found it easy to type on, with a light, crisp action that will please touch-typists.

There’s a 5-megapixel camera mounted on the back as well as a front-facing 1.2-megapixel camera for video calling, although no video calling software was evident. The Transformer will initially be available in 16GB and 32GB versions, although you won’t be able to buy the dock separately for a while, and it’s only available as a bundle with the 16GB version at present. On its own, the Transformer apparently weighs 680g, and with the dock it’s 1.3kg, although it felt heftier to us.

Asus has added some software, but thankfully it’s not the usual shovelware we’re used to seeing on new laptops. There’s a DNLA-aware media sharing app, which lets you share multimedia files between your tablet and other DNLA-capable devices such as TVs and media streamers. MyCloud is a cloud storage app that lets you backup files to Asus’s secure servers; Asus is offering unlimited space for the first year, but don’t get too used to it as it’ll start charging by the month after that period. There’s also an ebook Library app, but sadly the sample we saw didn’t have any books installed.

Communication can be via 802.11b/g/n wireless or Bluetooth, and there’s a 3G model planned. Plus there’s also the option of a Huawei 820W 3G module. The tablet itself has a microSDHC card slot, a headphone port and a mini-HDMI output, while the dock adds a full-sized SD card slot and two Type-A USB ports. These are both host ports, so they’re for attaching peripherals, rather than used to attach the Transformer to your PC.

Asus EeePad Transformer ports 1

Charging is done via a proprietary interface which attaches to your PC via USB; the same interface is used to attach the tablet to the dock. When the tablet is plugged into the dock to charge, it will charge its battery before the dock’s built-in battery, so if you just want to grab the tablet you’ll know it has as much charge as possible.

Asus EeePad Transformer ports 2

Although we didn’t have a lot of time to play with Honeycomb, we found it generally similar to the Android we use on our smartphone, the main difference being that the notification bar is across the bottom of the screen rather than the top. The dock has a number of buttons along the top row that act as hardware shortcuts, for example toggling Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and media control buttons for music and movie playback. However, we were informed that these would change in the final version, so the pictures here may not be accurate.

We hope that some of the more obvious omissions will be addressed in the retail product; for example, there was no task switching button on the keyboard, like Windows’ Alt-Tab shortcut. Integration of the keyboard and touchpad input with 3rd party apps was also lacking. In Android apps such as the browser, we could select text in the address bar using the touchpad or cursor keys plus Shift, and cut and paste with Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V, but these keyboard shortcuts wouldn’t work in the bundled document editor.

We weren’t given a precise release date for retail, but the Wi-Fi only EeePad Transformer should be on sale very soon. Initially it will be available in three versions: a 16GB model for £379; a 32GB model for £429; and a 16GB model with the docking station for £429. While it stands on its own as a tablet, we feel the docking station adds so much more, that you shouldn’t consider buying the tablet on its own at these prices. The 3G version will be released later through undisclosed network operators on contract.

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